Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015.

What are vaccinations?

During a vaccination, a needle is used to inject a vaccine into a person’s body. A vaccine is a substance that strengthens the body’s ability to provide what is called immunity from a certain type of infection. Infections are caused by germs, such as viruses or bacteria. A person can get an infection from germs that are passed through contact with someone else who is sick, for instance.1,2

One of the jobs of the body’s immune system is to fight infections and the illnesses they cause. When a person has an infection, the body’s immune system produces protein called antibodies that seek out and destroy the germs that are causing the infection. After the person has recovered from the infection, a supply of those antibodies remains in the body.1,2

Vaccines contain a weakened or killed form of the disease causing agent that is injected into the body which then causes the immune system to produce antibodies. If people who are vaccinated against a disease are exposed to the germs that cause that disease later on, then their bodies already have a supply of antibodies that can fight off the infection early on, before it gets worse.1,2

Vaccines are a safe, effective way to help a person’s immune system fight off infections and diseases that can be dangerous or even deadly.1,2

Why do people with COPD need vaccinations?3,5,6

Certain vaccinations are important for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The most common cause of acute exacerbations of COPD – also called COPD “flare-ups” – are respiratory infections caused by germs, such as flu or pneumonia. Flare-ups caused by these diseases can be dangerous for COPD patients. They can severely worsen symptoms that may even require hospital treatment.

However, there are vaccinations available that can hugely reduce the risk of contracting these diseases. It is strongly recommended that all COPD patients get those vaccinations to help reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups.

Which vaccinations should COPD patients receive?3

There are many different kinds of vaccines, but the ones that all COPD patients should get are:

  • Flu vaccine – protects against the seasonal flu
  • Pneumococcal vaccine – protects against pneumonia

The following vaccinations are also recommended for all adults, including people with COPD:

  • Tdap vaccine – protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Zoster vaccine – protects against shingles for people over 60 years of age

How often do COPD patients need to be vaccinated?4

It is important for COPD patients to get the flu vaccine every year, beginning in September or October. This is because the type of flu going around the community changes every year, so the vaccine to prevent it changes as well. Getting a flu vaccine any time during flu season will provide immunity. But, the best time to get it for maximum protection against the flu is during the fall, before flu season begins.

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines; Prevnar-13 and Pneumovax-23. There are different dosing recommendations based on a patient’s health history and past vaccination history. Talk to your health care professional to see which vaccine is needed.
The Tdap vaccine is given to adults once, but they need a booster shot to update it every 10 years. The Zoster vaccine is indicated for patients over 50 years old, it requires one dose and then a second dose 2-6 months later.

Are there any side effects of vaccines?

Vaccines are very safe for everyone, including COPD patients. In some cases, a vaccine can cause minor, short-term side effects. 3,4 These include:

  • Soreness, redness or swelling where the vaccine was injected
  • Minor disease symptoms, such as a low fever

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